Here is my struggling little basil plant. It is nearly four months old and yet still so small. It’s truncated, dwarfed. It turns all leaves, all its tiny shoots, toward the window, toward dim grey light; it’s starving for light. Maybe it needs warmth too. I left it on the windowsill one cold day, trying to give it sunlight, but it shriveled with cold. I still open the blind for it every morning, but I give it a little distance from the cold window pane. It’s surviving, but not flourishing, managing to stay alive, but not growing. I’ve tried just about all I can think of. Barring chemical fertilizers, I may just have to wait until spring to enjoy access to fresh basil. Any ideas? Suggestions? Any kitchen gardeners out there?
On the weekends, we have a routine, the basil and I. When I get up, it's already light and I open all the blinds. Sometimes, especially as we get closer to spring, the sun is actually shining, albeit weakly. On these bright mornings, I move the basil to the windowsill, and stay near the window myself. Both of us stretch, taking it all in, bathing in the sun’s rays. I squint into the bright morning light and tell myself, “There is a chemical reaction happening in my body right now. It is necessary. My skin is absorbing the sunlight. I’m creating vitamin D.”
A friend of mine told me that her doctor worried about her. He kept asking her to come back for visits and running tests. But nothing in the test results ever indicated that there was any reason for concern. Eventually, she found out he suspected she might be depressed and in need of treatment. She laughed and said, “Doc, it’s January. It’s natural. All my plants are struggling from lack of light too.”
A shocking thing to say to someone in medicine, she expressed an idea we fail to accommodate in modern society. In the northern part of the world, winter is a time when we feel a little less energetic, we eat a little more, sleep a little more, exercise a little less. Winter is a time when everything shuts down, slows down, hibernates. Even house plants don’t have the energy to grow new shoots or stand their leaves up straight. It’s hard for us to slow down, to admit we can’t do it all. There must be a cure, something can be prescribed, we think. Acceptance feels like defeat. But it’s not; and most of us don’t need antidepressants or light treatment. Feeling a little tired, maybe a little gloomy is natural. We just need to go with it. Spring will come.
Here in New York the daily routine nearly grinds to a halt. The sidewalks become even more narrow and jammed with people. The snow banks melt and then freeze, melt and then freeze again, leaving the deceptive slush puddle on each corner. It looks solid, but it really isn’t. We are all trying to avoid it, running into one another, all ending up with cold, wet feet.
After weeks of getting up and walking to the subway in the dark, arriving at work with wet feet, damp hair and smudged makeup, and returning home through the same treacherous streets without ever seeing the sun, we’re exhausted. New Yorkers spend the winter complaining about the inconvenience, blaming the city, blaming the sanitation department, blaming the mayor or the MTA for the winter. And I get it. It is horribly inconvenient. It makes the day to day, just basic everyday routine, require much more energy than it should.
Watching the weather report yesterday, the Wednesday forecast said merely, "awful." And I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. If this isn't "awful," I don't want to know what is.
So, in the face of another impending storm, here's my unsolicited advice: take easy on yourself. Eat good food. Indulge in great wine. Create a personal sanctuary. Find a bar with a nice roaring fire, like Black Mountain Wine House, Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, or Molly's at 287 Third Avenue in Manhattan. Enjoy the rest of winter so you can remember what it feels like today on those sticky days in August. The days when the air is heavy with heat and humidity, when your bare feet have a permanent black sandal pattern imprinted on them from city dirt and sweat. When you contemplate shaving your head just to escape the little extra heat your hair creates. On those days, when you get up in the morning and are already drenched in sweat, remember these cold grey days, enriched hot food and rich red wine. Or so I tell myself...